Lamprocles (Novella)

“Alas, my Child! That which saves the lives of others, proves thy destruction, even thy sire’s love; to thee thy father’s nobility has proved no boon”

Euripides, Trojan Women


-399 B.C.-

The first man he had brought death to was his father. He brought it to him in a dirty golden goblet, stained purple with the earthy poison it often held. His mother had forfeited the (not insubstantial) silver for the mixture, and the People had been kind enough to provide the goblet itself. Thus was Lamprocles, the fittest of his family, reduced to Death’s delivery-boy.

Despite years of similar service for his mother, he was not a very fast courier: he moved towards his destination in a cautious stabilizing tread. This was somewhat necessary, as he had to overcome the city’s most recent scars- scattered mounds of splintered stone and shredded wood. As he climbed over these remains of the Athenians’ once grand wall, he kept his goblet-hand locked and extended, so as not to spill the mixture. Were he one year younger, he would have engineered such a spill rather than avoid it. He would have run in quiet tears to his mother and claimed there was an accident on the road or an incident at the herbalist’s store. She would have consoled and lightly scolded him, then turned to her father for another loan to pay for the second dose. She would have gone herself the second time, to beg the storekeeper for another mixture at a reduced price so that her children would not be hungry while they mourned. All the shame, dishonesty, and poverty, he would have endured- if only it bought his father the time it took to deliver a second mixture.

But Lamprocles was thirteen years of age, and though not yet a man, he had begun to understand what it was that would make him so. Honor and Duty obligated him to guard the goblet with his life. He was more than willing to lay down his life- he had, in fact, planned to do so, to drink the hemlock himself … Continue Suffering

Aesthetic Self-destruction: Ugliness as Entropy and the Disruption of Order

If, as Socrates wished us to believe, Philosophy is a field of questions, then aesthetics must be the field which asks the question of art. Yet, any study of art leads inevitably to considering art as an exploratory form itself seeking answers, as itself a form of questioning. Perhaps then the concern of the aesthetic philosopher should not be “What is art?” but “What is art asking? What does it seek to explore?”. In the realm of the positive, the beautiful and the pleasing, these questions do not seem to diverge: art is that which is beautiful (or some other positive quality) and its intention is to explore that beauty. In the negative, however, in the manifestation of ugliness and the unappealing, we see art complete its exploration but find as answer something wholly disturbing or unacceptable. We know this unsightliness when we encounter it (a sudden aversion, a headshaking revulsion, a disgusted frown, a provocation to righteous anger- ugliness always manages to engender a response), but what exactly is this negative aesthetic answer? What is ugliness? Taking Ruth Lorand’s account as our guide (with supplements from Michael Carmichael and Frank Sibley) we will attempt to prove here that negative aesthetic reactions, generally, arise from a disruption of order and that ugliness, specifically, is the manifestation of chaos and its inevitable conquest of order (i.e. entropy).

Beginning, as Lorand does, with straightforward ugliness, we can identify the foundational role of disorder quite directly. Lorand equates beauty with order by telling us that already the concept “is implied by many aestheticians” when they say beautiful art is “constructed of parts… fitted to give pleasure and satisfaction” or that the object is “well organized [with] every element is in its right place,” but here we can conceive of order even more broadly (402). Order, taken without specificity, merely implies the existence of some system, some way for the presented elements to be organized. In this sense, both a philosophical theory and a city are orderly, while a dice roll or an explosion are not (or, at least, are less orderly). In essence, … Continue Suffering

Partiality As Life-Philosophy: Reconciling Morality with Life

First, a story. Not mine, Plato’s.

Socrates faces the end of his life. The Athenian jury condemned him to death months ago, the sacred rite during which executions are prohibited ended yesterday, and he has so many times refused to allow his friends to aid in an escape that they no longer bother him with it. But they still come. They come to do what Socrates has always taught them to do: question, postulate, discuss, question again, question again. Phaedo, Apollodorus, Simmias, and Cebes have come, even Crito has found a place to sit and rest his aged legs while he farewells his old friend. The guard, Ctesippus, must come soon, but in the many months of Socrates’ stay at the jail he has come to know Socrates well and wishes to delay his duty as long as possible.

Here at the precipice of his death, Socrates is visited by his family: Xanthippe his wife, Lamprocles his teenage son, and the two babies. Pheado, the teller of this tale, is pre-occupied with the philosophical dialogue at hand and so we do not know what Socrates said to his grieving wife and children. There was speculation (primarily from Xenophon) of much animosity within the family (specifically, that Xanthippe was a harsh mother and argumentative wife), but this is largely believed to be apocryphal (if she disliked him so much, why would she be with him on the eve of his death?). Nevertheless, Plato tells us that Socrates neither labored for money nor visited home very often, preferring the company of his students and the public marketplace- it is unlikely this state of affairs was very conducive to a healthy family atmosphere (especially in ancient Athens, where women could barely leave the house without their husbands). When Socrates returns to the dialogue, he tells his friends “I sent the women away, to avoid unseemliness, for I am told one should die in a good omened silence:” he did not want the grieving of his family to disrupt the discussion and respect of his death (Plato 117e).

If one has come to the … Continue Suffering

Gravity Never Changes

[A strange mutated hybrid of a short story. I wrote it for a class, but also needed to include commentary on a recent pop. scientific article, so the dialogue is a bit… extemporaneous (read: nonsensical) at times, and the story is a bit… well, odd. ]


As the hour grew late, Christopher Marlow watched the earth, like a ballet dancer of infinite poise, spin and move ever so slightly, obscuring the spotlight of the sun. The last shafts of dusklight pierced his study’s stained glass windows and enkindled the waves of dust that floated through the room. The room lacked any other light, and for a time, all that could be seen was Christopher Marlo in a brown tweed chair, surrounded, as if imprisoned, by horizontal pillars of radiant dust. Marlo shut his book, and the illusion dissipated with the fleeing dust. Though he read in his study by the waning sunlight nearly every day, today would be the last time his books saw sunlight. Today was unique.

As the grandfather clocks leaning on the wall chimed 7:00 PM a tall man, not three years older than Marlo and bearing a distinct resemblance to him, entered the study. He walked as if gravity had decided to play favorites- and had become particularly attached to him. With a subtle nod from Marlo, the visitor selected the nearest chair and sunk into it. The cushions rose to meet his not insignificant weight, and his feet were soon resting on a green ottoman that had caught his eye.

“Long time, no see John- or am I supposed to call you Dr. Senior Professor Emeritus Nebula award winner Johnathan Speare?” asked Marlo with a sly smile.

“Funny” said Speare flatly. “You know very well my e-mail automatically generates that signature- I’d change it if I could.”

“Only teasing- hey, it’s not like my name’s gotten any shorter since the wedding.”

“Yeah yeah, I’m just tired. You know, long day.” Speare shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  “Say how is Karen nowadays, anyway?”

“Fine. She took little Emily on vacation to Disney World … Continue Suffering

Neutrality vs. Power Bias: A Power Analysis of Linguistic Change on the Internet

[Some unusual territory for me: An amateur linguistic analysis of some recent trends on the internet.]

The internet, glorified in the abstract like much of modern technology, is often idealized as a universal medium of communication that promotes globalization, convenient and cheap education, community cohesion, and a host of other social goods. John Barlow, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, claimed

“cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications… We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth… a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs… We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge… The only law that we recognize is the Golden Rule” (Barlow).  

The assumption being made in this veneration, is that humanity, if somehow able to achieve perfect communication, will naturally recoil from all evils- that communicative unity can only bring about good. A powerful counter-example can be found in Orwell’s 1984, in which an all-powerful totalitarian central government enslaves the minds of its citizens by enforcing universal patterns of speech. “Newspeak” it is termed, and it “was intended to make all other forms of thought impossible… a heretical thought- a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc [the totalitarian government]- would be literally unthinkable” (Orwell 300). Certainly, in this case, the universal communication established in the fictional Oceania is not for the good. It illustrates that communication, no matter how universal, is ultimately modified by the dynamics of power, for better, worse, or neither.

This principle is not limited to fictional exemplification: it is embodied in the very creation of the internet. An analysis of the development of the internet, from ARPANET in 1969 to the dominance of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, leads us to abandon any traditional narrative of a communication network novel in its neutrality, in favor of an internet that, while explicitly striving for neutrality, is deeply seated in an English language bias … Continue Suffering

A Time Traveler at Plato’s Symposium

It really was ridiculous, the entire thing was ridiculous. Nearly one and a half hours in, everything was ridiculous to Henry. The lights were too bright, the makeup too itchy, the table too big and too short, the marble floor too uncomfortable, the couches even, so luxurious to look at, were itchy and lacked proper back support. But it was almost over: that was what most consoled Henry, but also what most concerned him.

If he failed, if he jumped over a line, if he stuttered, even if he said a sentence or two out of order, the entire thing would have to be redone. Lord Above! Whose crazy idea was it to shoot an entire damned two hour movie in one take?!? Probably that “artsy” director’s idea, accused Henry. He was some famous foreign director, long Greek name that didn’t make any sense, thick indecipherable accent, curly mustache, even that ridiculous beret; he fit the fancy director archetype to a T. Yet, he couldn’t really hate the director too much, Henry was no film critic, but he understood the importance of his own role. The director had taken liberties with the source material; Henry’s character was a new addition to the classic Symposium, endowed with the knowledge and expertise of the modern philosopher. His character was meant to represent the modern attitude, to breathe new life into a work that many believed had lost its relevance. On the other hand, Henry wasn’t one of those ridiculous “method” actors; he didn’t know and didn’t care how he was supposed to bring about this modern spin.

Henry continued his reflection, until he noticed something had changed. Some constant noise that had been droning on for the last 25 minutes had transformed into what sounded like… applause?! Smacked with an overwhelming tide of anxiety, Henry realized that Christopher (who was playing Socrates) had finished his speech and that he, like his companions, should be clapping. Henry froze. He couldn’t move. Thousands of thoughts raced through his head. Without his will, his body stood erect. He looked at the director, saw his concerned … Continue Suffering

The Breakthrough

[I was really impressed by Mark Strand’s The Prediction, so I thought I’d try writing a poem of similar theme and meter- enjoy (or not).]

The inevitable flotsam builds blocks in my cranal canals,
erecting an enormous weir, but bunching behind
the wall, that now bubbling barrier,
bright pulpy ideas, and eager sparkling juice
begin to burst through the damaged dam;
out come pouring coalescing creations, greeting
and mixing with their jetsam kin, their forms
gaining defining dimensions, the flow pushing them forward,
the children of the brain evolving into comprehension, appendages growing out of them,
detailing a nowhere universe, I am discerning them now
and am seen seeing them, and seeing this they are running away,
unto a page they splash and land, splash and might flounder.

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Why Video Games are a Danger to Art(ists)

No doubt you are expecting this to be an impassioned polemic piece (read: rant) about how video games threaten our society and our oh-so-inviolate morals. Though incorrect, given the climate of rhetoric on video games and “interactive entertainment” you would be hardly remiss in making such an assumption. Years ago, in 2010, Roger Ebert, the renowned movie critic, made a controversial blog post on a similar topic, and for his opposition to video games as art he was bombarded with comments upon comments, the most of which were of the same tone as the very first: “Roger- you just don’t get it.”

Such a line-drawing, “them vs. us” mentality is common in this debate, as is the refusal to engage in serious conversation. Video game fans and developers seek legitimacy for their creative medium, art “fans” seek to guard their Canon and dismiss video games as children’s entertainment- compromise would be fatal to either. Whatever camp you may fall into, I do not seek to sway you here: only to caution that part of you which demands expression. If you are an artist or writer, you know of what I speak; If you are not, merely think of the last time you truly loved something, when you felt like finally, something in this world was truly for you, when something was right, just right and that was the end of it. I aim to caution that, if you play games, this part of you is being slowly enfeebled, not from malnourishment, but, in fact, from overindulgence.

What drives us all to creativity and expression is the search for personal validation and perfection. Like a lovelorn Narcissus, we stumble around the world, desperately looking for a reflection of our own perfection. What good video games offer us is a way to cheat to such perfection. No matter the potency of your feeling, the work (writing, painting, reading, watching, understanding, talking) is difficult and the results often inaccurate. The painter tears his canvas, the writer has a block, the reader cannot penetrate the density of language, the movie-goer is cheated … Continue Suffering